LEWISTON — Bay Buchanan brought more than a warning about the increasing problem of illegal immigration in the United States to Bates College on Monday night.
The former U.S. treasurer and political analyst also encouraged the crowd to get informed, to stand up and debate the issues facing America in the 21st century.
"That's what American leaders are all about," said Buchanan, who served as treasurer under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1983. "It's the debate. Start talking about things. Pick some things you feel passionate about."
Bates College Republicans welcomed Buchanan thanks to the speaker's longtime personal friendship with the mother of one of its members. She was the youngest woman to ever hold the post of treasurer of the United States. Since serving under President Reagan, she has frequently appeared as a political analyst on television news programs.
Buchanan, sister of former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, also serves as president of The American Cause, an educational organization whose mission is to advance and promote traditional American values rooted in the conservative principles of national sovereignty, economic patriotism, limited government and individual freedom. In 2006, she was appointed chairwoman of Team America PAC, a group that highlights the problems created by illegal immigration and supports candidates committed to securing U.S. borders.
"This was a natural uprising going on in this country," Buchanan said of the political rallies, town meetings, Tea Party conventions and shift in political power over the past several months as Americans express discontent with present-day politics. "I saw the anger. I was astounded by the depths of that anger."
Buchanan took Washington to task and accused its leaders of being arrogant and of ignoring the growing issue of illegal immigration for more than 15 years. She used examples such as Hazelton, a small town in northwest Pennsylvania, that saw its crime skyrocket and its school system's budget for English as a Second Language jump from $500 to $1.5 million within five years, due to illegal immigration.
According to Buchanan, town leaders came under fire in 2006 after passing an ordinance aimed at discouraging hiring or renting to illegal immigrants by fining employers and landlords. The town's Republican mayor and its leaders gained national notoriety over the law, which is still being appealed.
And yet, Buchanan said, just the threat of the law going into effect made employers and landlords think twice about hiring or renting to illegal immigrants. She said that many of the illegal immigrants have since left town and that the crime rate dropped by one-third in a short time.
"I personally agree with a lot of what she has to say," said James Mulholland, 19, a freshman from Vero Beach, Fla., who supported Buchanan's views of illegal immigrants taking away jobs from capable American workers because they work for far lower wages. "American businesses employing American citizens cannot compete with that."
Mulholland used one of his hometown's biggest industries — orange farms — as an example of how illegal immigrants take away jobs because they work for a fraction of the wages expected by Americans. Given today's tough economic market, he said, there are many people in Vero Beach who would be happy to pick oranges for eight hours a day for a fair living wage. But instead, the majority of those jobs go to illegal immigrants.
Not everyone who attended Monday's lecture supported Buchanan's views. Kim Dinh, 23, a senior from Vietnam, agreed with Buchanan's suggestion to close the American borders for the time being and concentrate on helping Americans get back on their feet. But past that, Dinh considered Buchanan's views and stories one-sided.
Dinh said she would have liked to have heard more statistics supporting Buchanan's views and fewer stories — especially when it came to her views on the state of education because of illegal immigrants attending American schools. She said she considered students from illegal immigrant families to be highly motivated to succeed in school.
Dinh also pointed out that on the job front, despite Buchanan's belief that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from capable American workers, dozens of American businesses have shut down plants and moved operations overseas to places such as China. Workers there also make a fraction of the wages paid to American workers, much like illegal immigrants here.
"This issue is a tool for a bigger game," Dinh said, adding that Buchanan helped rally Republican troops with her talk about standing up and debating issues. "Illegal immigration is part of it, but it's not the whole picture."